Kacy & Clayton (from the album Carrying On available on New West Records)
A dreamy texture envelopes the title track for Carrying On, the recent release from Kacy & Clayton, the pair joining in the singalong chorus advice as Kacy vocalizes her fears in somber observations that form verses. The beat gallops, mellowing when “Intervention” eases the rage of its character as the morning light wakens from its nightly sleep of death on the dark Country of “Spare Me Over One More Year”. Musically, Kacy & Clayton manage to honor multiple influences yet never brand any of their melodies with a defining sonic brand.
The ability of Kacy & Clayton to be those musical chameleons, adapting to the songs like the colors of the lizard change to fit each environment, is what drew producer Jeff Tweedy (Wilco, Mavis Staples) to the pair. Jeff recalled that ‘when I first heard Kacy & Clayton, I was struck by how much detail and nuance they had absorbed from what sounded like a large swath of my record collection. When I told them that they were as good as the artists they were drawing from, I’m not sure they believed me. On this record I don’t hear those influences as much as I hear them taking the things they love so intimately and telling their own story. I think they’re a truly great band’. Weaving wisdom and experiential advice into the world around them, Kacy & Clayton face fall and early winter on “The South Saskatchewan River” as they swirl in a memory searching for a name in “Providence Place” and sing of settling as they look for a cowboy on “The Forty Ninth Parallel”. Carrying On spits out notes for the ragged rhythms guiding “High Holiday” and waltzes to “That Sweet Orchestra Sound” as Kacy & Clayton sadly spin on the same steps for the family history of “Mom and Dad’s Waltz #2”.
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Samantha Fish (from the album Kill or Be Kind available on Rounder Records)
Following a badass bass-born groove into the title track, Samantha Fish walks through a memory, before she was a ‘homewrecker’ and ‘your heartbreaker’, reminding that “Kill or Be Kind” are the only two steps she knows when dancing with her heart. The doors to Kill or Be Kind are kicked open with a wicked groove as Samantha Fish duets with her guitar, matching her vocals to the riffs, equally partnering on first cut, “Bulletproof”. For her sixth solo album, Samantha Fish continues that model throughout Kill or Be Kind, words and music taking a bite, the guitar lines wiggling alongside the warnings of “You Got It Bad”, the beat thumping through an ethereal melody for “Dream Girl”, and the reading of “Love Letters” a seductive tease in the vocals and the guitar string bends. The songs match the goals of Samantha Fish who entered the studio with set intentions, recalling ‘that was my mission on this album: To really set these songs up so that they have a life of their own. Strong messages from the heart – that’s what I really set out for’.
To carve a spot in the world of music, Samantha Fish set her performances on stun, guitar and voice reaching for the extreme borders of whatever projects or live show she plugged in and played. Kill of Be Kind showcases the same spirit though the sass comes with a touch of class as Samantha snarls with the grace of a leopard, gliding across “Try Not to Fall in Love with You”, shredding emotions on words painted with sharp slashes and a gently breathing melody as she asks tough questions in the glow of classic Blue Soul in “Dirty”. Samantha Fish can hear the change, relating that ‘I think I’ve grown as a performer and as a player. I’ve become more respectful of the melody. You can go up and down the fret board and up and down your vocal register, but that’s not going to be as powerful as conveying a simple melody that people can really connect to and sing themselves’. Wrapping her voice around the beauty of a melody shines a Blue light on Samantha Fish as she tells a prodigal lover that “She Don’t Live Around Here” and spits out a message from her heart, part request, part demand, admitting “Love Your Lies”.
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Chris Knight (from the album Almost Daylight on Drifters Church Productions)
The first cut on Almost Daylight, the recent release from Chris Knight, sets the tone for the album, “I’m William Callahan” erupting into life as steadily winding wire tightened by sharp-sighted words and razor-string guitar bends form the song. Chris Knight tears a story from rough rhythms, backing his words with a feral sound, bastard chords and notes bred of a back-alley mingling of Country and Rock’n’Roll. Guitar notes sparkle and jangle on the slowly revolving groove of the title track as Almost Daylight looks through the dark clouds of small town life and hard luck living in “Wont’ Look Back”, demanding “The Damn Truth” as a angry response to the news of today and swaying on ragged Country Folk wisdom of “Everyone’s Lonely Now”.
The rural staging of the stories on Almost Daylight are in line with the ‘last of a dying breed’ nods that Chris Knight has garnered over his career. His characters stick to the shadows, survivors of hardscrabble lives, driven by desperation and running headlong into the tiny offering of the Almost Daylight album title. Of the title, Chris Knight feels that ‘I do think there’s a cohesiveness to this album. The title is key, I suppose. Through all these songs, you could find a theme about seeking shelter’. Producer Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle) brings a richness to the songs, the acoustics are raw and edgy, pounding out a melody wrapped up in the scorching guitar leads of Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites, The Yayhoos, Homemade Sin). The beat stomps, guiding a ragged musical backing through “Mexican Home”, with John Prine joining in while Lee Ann Womack joins Chris Knight on the Country cool of “Send It on Down”. The playing quiets as Chris Knight heads home to ‘the Kentucky line’, the rhythms raising up with the tense confessions of “Trouble Up Ahead” as he preaches outlaw inspiration with the words of “Go On”, pulling “Flesh and Blood” from the openhearted admissions of unconditional love.
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Pacific Standard (from the album The Honeyed & The Bittersweet, Volume I available on Mercy Street Entertainment Group)
Modeling a sound on California Country heritage and a Country Rock style, San Francisco American Roots collective Pacific Standard serve up The Honeyed & The Bittersweet, Volume I. The album collects songs from Pacific Standard alongside a rousing, true-to-origins, version of Stealers Wheel “Stuck in the Middle with You”. Country rhythms roam free for the title track, Pacific Standard offering love advice that turns personal as “The Honeyed & The Bittersweet” sings of a safe space somewhere in its own middle.
There is a warmth in the playing of Pacific Standard, acoustics bright as the storyline of “Consolation” strips bare a soul as they border The Honeyed & The Bittersweet, Volume I with an assured beat as they demand room to move around, opening the album with “Fence” while a sharp bite spits out a goodbye in the closing cut, “Always Be with You”. High-lonesome vocals from frontman Greg Lamboy are a secret weapon for the natural Americana and Roots tones of Pacific Standard. The Honeyed & The Bittersweet, Volume I echoes the joyous Roots rambles of fellow Bay Area band, Grateful Dead, in the musical abandon of “Rapscallion Rhapsody” while Pacific Standard put a train-track rhythm underneath “Sooner or Later” as the story launches what-if’s that make judgments and urge change before time runs out.
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North Mississippi Allstars (from the album Up and Rolling available on New West Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
The North Mississippi Allstars have always kept tremendous musical company, whether rolling with members of the Burnside family (R.L., Cedric) or any number of other North Mississippi hill country musicians. That has been the secret weapon for North Mississippi Allstars… they represent and present a deep connection to blues of the Mississippi Hill Country, Memphis Rock’n’Roll, and the music of Luther and Cody Dickinson’s father, Jim Dickinson, lent his talents to creating, including the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. On Up and Rolling, their eleventh and latest release, North Mississippi Allstars are joined by Mavis Staples, Cedric Burnside, Jason Isbell, and Duane Betts among many others.
Up and Rolling kicks off with the fife and drum inspired “Call That Gone,” the fife and drum remaining present throughout the song while making room for dirty Blues courtesy of Luther Dickinson’s searing guitar. The Up and Rolling title track is a laid-back groove that walks down a Dickinson family memory lane, reflecting on a North Mississippi upbringing that included loads of music. The groove continues into a Mavis Staples appearance on “What You Gonna Do” while “Mean Old World” plays it straight, before turning into a three-minute southern rock jam that features Jason Isbell and Duane Betts. “Out on the Road” with Cedric Burnside is loose and stripped down while “Lonesome in My Home” is heavy and slow, North Mississippi All Stars brand of boogie Blues taking on Indie Psych Rock. “Living Free” marches along like an equal rights anthem, stating ‘maybe we don’t agree, your free to believe, don’t try and force your beliefs on me, I’m living free’. Taking a walk back in time, North Mississippi Allstars inspiration for the album in a series of old photographs taken during the gorup’s Shake Hands with Shorty era (2000/2001). NMAS continue to be one of the great American bands; now completed with a heavy female vocal presence living comfortably next to the vocals of Luther Dickinson, North Mississippi Allstars continue to present a lesson of American Gospel and Blues in a Rock’n’Roll package. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Dori Freeman (from the album Every Single Star available on Blue Hens Music)
Dori Freeman is charming; a Folkie with subtle country leanings in her music, and soaking up homegrown music from her home in the Bluegrass hot-bed of Galax, Virginia. Dori Freeman is a songwriter who can lay it all out; she’ll paint a vivid picture whether singing a sentimental song of family or a love song that is aching and flat out weepy. Her latest release, Every Single Star, is loaded with AM Gold charm while hinting at 1970’s country rock. Every Single Star is a record that feels good as much as it sounds good.
“That’s How I Feel” proves Dori Freeman has a knack for clever wordplay. It is a love song that details being away from your partner, comparing that loneliness to being ‘one shoe on the side of the road’ or ‘one can in the back of the fridge’.
“Like I Do” has a 60’s sunshine melody underneath a beautiful song about parenting, stating ‘nobody’s gonna love you like I do, ‘til I had a little baby, I never knew that I could love someone like I love you’. The song speaks a sentiment felt and stated by every parent that ever decided to raise a kid. Once again working with producer Teddy Thompson, “Walls of Me and You” shows an ability to arrange, the arrangement’s fiddles and guitar fills placed with careful perfection. “2 Step” is the most country cut of the bunch, with Thompson joining Freeman on a 1970’s country inspired duet. Lines like ‘Margarita’s deep enough to fill a sink’ leaves a lot to the imagination as to what came next. Like your friend rehashing last night’s exploits, Dori Freeman tells a good tale, and does so with vivid and melodic detail.
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Daemon Chili (from the album Live in Lowell available as a self-release)
Like any concoction or special family recipe, it is the secret sauces, spices, secret ingredients that make the meal. A thick groove, heavily peppered drum beat, big, fat drops of saxophone, and splashes of guitar licks, heated in warm organ chords and baked under hot neon lights, that is what Daemon Chili serve up on Live in Lowell, their recent release. Shaken and stirred, what separates Deamon Chil from anything else on the menu is the Blues shouts that urge the pot to boil over and the heat rise. Blues on a mission kicks up some Massachusetts dust when Daemon Chili list “Seven Deadly Sins”, sway with “Take Sounding” as the song bids a ballsy goodbye, and feel the sting from “Blood Burning Moon”.
Live in Lowell puts the boys in the band in front of a home town crowd, the audience giving support when Daemon Chili reads from “Wicked Blues”, the ‘bad man’ in the story line counting down to getting his kicks a familiar face. The backbeat demands attention underneath “Gypsy Moon”, strides through “Devil Woman” on a heavy-footed Blues stroll, stirs a funky brew for “That What Love Will Make You Do”, and stretches out the melody on instrumental theatrics for the inspirational message of “Lay Your Burdens Down”. Daemon Chili tell the story of hometown living, and cooking, in “Boott Mill Flavor” as Live in Lowell opens its doors with promising to ‘get things warmed up with a local number’ in “Boston Blues” and wrap up the show, and the live recording, with a hard-pounding song for the mighty mother ocean in “Mercy of the Sea”.
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Bruce Cockburn (from the album Crowing Ignites available on True North Records) (by Bryant Liggett)
Bruce Cockburn turned off the vocal microphones for his thirty-fourth album, Crowing Ignites. Similar to his 2005 release Speechless, Crowing Ignites leaves the lyrics behind, omitting any opportunity to get hung up on the words, where the instrumentation has to take a backseat to nothing. History makes it is obvious the man can put words together to pen a great number if not a hundred great songs, one after the other, but let his voice take five and allow Bruce Cockburn to showcase his guitar chops in Crowing Ignites.
“Bardo Rush” into “Easter,” and then “April in Memphis,” Bruce Cockburn lays down experimental and atmospheric groundwork for the coming cuts on Crowing Ignites, “April in Memphis” showcasing his finger-picking ability while flirting with classical and adding ringing chimes. “Blind Willie” hits on a Blues groove, “Seven Daggers” is a haunting, hammer dulcimer inspired cut complete with church bells while “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” is an exercise in experimental Jazz, his guitar work subtle and quiet in a Bill Frisell way, playing ever so quietly under a trumpet.
“Sweetness and Light” is a slow and optimistic swinger and “The Groan” a raw Blues cut with driving, percussive hand claps where the mandolin trades leads with guitar. “Pibroch the Wind in the Valley” hides a Celtic melody and album closer, “Bells of Gethsemane”, wraps the album up on a bell heavy, acoustic-industrial note. The guitar playing on the album is exceptional. A majority of Crowing Ignites finds Bruce Cockburn’s Blues finger-picking delivered with a dose of the avant-garde. A classical record without a symphony, Bruce Cockburn showcases an orchestral ability center stage on Crowing Ignites. (by Bryant Liggett)
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Awkward Family Portraits (from the album Everything We’ve Done Up Until Now Except What We’ve Done Since available on Holy Smoke Records)
From the mid-1850’s onward, Music Halls were the go-to spot in Britain for new entertainment. Musically, the sounds were proud of their ability to be all things to all people, the players shifting from ballads to barnburners. Awkward Family Portraits offer the same options with the songs on their debut, Everything We’ve Done Up Until Now Except What We’ve Done Since. For AWP, the styles come from the record collections of band members: Rock’n’Roll, Western Swing, Blues, Americana, and Bluegrass. Starting off with an introduction and explanation of what to expect, Awkward Family Portraits begin with a bounce, opening the album on “AFB Theme”.
Formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 2016, Awkward Family Portraits secured a solid standing in the local Roots music scene. Strums and percussive patter are the soundtrack for “Day in the Life of a Lying Man” as Memphis Gerald joins the band for “Kick the Bucket”. AWP offer advice on a rhythmic rumble in “Keep On Keepin’ On”, with scratchy strums for “Can’t Control Cupid”, and in a Country ramble for “Don’t Drink Whiskey, It’s Risky”. Everything We’ve Done Up Until Now Except What We’ve Done Since sets the mood to crooner smooth for “Way the Wind Blows” as Awkward Family Portraits shuffle out some back-alley Jazz with “Do Yourself a Favor” and follow a bass bump into “Ring, Ring, Angus!”.
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Don Gallardo featuring Lilly Winwood (from the E.P. In the Name of Good Intentions available on JTMMusic)
The latest release from East Nashville’s Don Gallardo finds the musician flirting with a handful of genres without leaning far enough in to commit to any one style or brand. With hints of Gospel, Blues and Rock, In the Name of Good Intentions melodically meanders, a charming soundtrack for a lazy afternoon that’s lyrically direct and void of ambiguity. In the Name of Good Intentions presents Don Gallardo featuring Lilly Winwood, her subtle backing vocals a steady ace for an already winning hand.
A lonely fiddle stands out on album opener, “Rhyders Song (Along the Way)”, the sound, eventually joined by guitar and mandolin, is kept to a whisper. ‘Hold onto these words, and put them in a place, a place that you can save for a rainy day’… it is a storyline of positive affirmation hidden in a ballad. “Shine A Light on Me” has a slight dose of twang within its large band feel, the guitar fills, horn section, and piano adding to its good-time vibe. Don Gallardo takes some liberties with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” turning the bounce of the original version into an almost spoken word Folk reading. “Devil Gonna Come” is a striking gospel cut, the beauty of the melody its simplicity, pushed along by tambourine and hand-claps. Don Gallardo’s vocals ache on “The Wanderer,” a slow E.P. closer dripping with emotion and the message of ‘don’t turn your back on your fellow man’.
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